Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blackberry launches Blackberry 10, Z10 and Q10

Image credit: Verge
 For those of you scratching your heads over the weird headline, get used to it; for Research In Motion(RIM) shall henceforth be known as Blackberry. CEO Thorsten Heins' choice to choose a "simple and elegant" commercial name associated with the best product of the former RIM shows that the company is ready to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. The fabled Blackberry 10 (BB10) operating system which has been under development for over a year finally makes an appearance at the Blackberry launch event yesterday along with two devices to carry it forward - the Z10 and Q10.

Blackberry 10
Image credit: Verge
Blackberry 10 is all set to be the underdog of the smartphone race but does it have what it takes to be the most smartphone platform. The OS looks like a fusion between iOS and Android. There are no physical home buttons (on the touch based Z10) and the focus is more on the gestures to get things done. This is a very bold move from a company whose strength has been physical keyboards.  BB10 is best described by Verge as an operating system with four main states: on your homescreen, in an application, in your messages (BlackBerry Hub), or in your app drawer.

There are two main gestures for navigation - swipe from down to top from any screen to go to the home screen and swipe from down to top, hold and swipe to right to view the Blackberry Hub, the unified notification center of BB10. Once you are back on the home screen, the app becomes a widget(like the Weather app) or just appears as an icon link to the app. The crazy thing is there can be only 8 apps at the most on the home screen. Open the 9th app and there goes your old app. So there is no way to keep your favorite apps forever on the home screen :( The icons appear too large and border on being cartoonish.

Blackberry Hub
Add caption
Blackberry has done a good job of consolidating all the messages, emails and social network accounts in the same place via the Blackberry Hub. Like Windows Phone, access to social networks like Twitter and Facebook are built right into the OS itself. Though this notification system is 'different' from Android and iOS it remains to be seen if it is better. Complaints are already surfacing that though the Hub shows new Twitter messages but one has to click on it to open the full message. Guess the folks at Blackberry don't use Twitter much, eh!

Blackberry World
The renamed Blackberry App store boasts of 70,000 apps as of date but how many are actually useful is the more important than numbers. Of course, Blackberry must be applauded for its efforts to bring in so many apps right on the launch day. Gaining developer confidence is a hurdle that all new smartphone operating systems have to deal with. At the moment there are no exclusive or killer apps, but the regular favorites are right there from Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare,etc. Apart from apps, Blackberry World also provides users a wide choice of music,tv and movies from major and independent labels such as  4AD Records, Domino Recording Company, finetunes, Matador Records, [PIAS] Entertainment Group, Rough Trade Records, Sony Music Entertainment, The Orchard, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, XL Recordings and Zebralution. Blackberry has promised to even bring the BBM competitors Skype and WhatsApp to BB10!
Add caption

Blackberry Messenger(BBM)
BBM can be called the father of all the recent instant messaging apps like WeChat, WhatsApp and the likes. Blackberry has added more features to BBM by providing audio/video chat and even screen sharing! While audio/video chat may pass off as good additons, it is the screen sharing functionality that should help Blackberry woo back the enterprise customers who have moved on to greener pastures of iOS and Android.

BlackBerry Z10
The touch based flagship device features a 4.2-inch HD display with 356ppi (pixels per inch) and comes with the usual bells and whistle of modern day smartphones like a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB of internal storage, an 8-megapixel camera, NFC, LTE support and a 1,800mAh battery. Navigating the device for the first time with a tutorial is not going to be a cake walk for many users but should feel natural once the user gets used to the gestures. One of the most touted features is the Timeshift feature of camera which lets users capture images in a burst mode and select the best shot and the predictive keyboard which seems to do a good job from the demo videos on the Verge. Complaints about poor battery life could dampen user's interest to try out the new OS.

BlackBerry Q10
The BlackBerry Q10 is the first BB10 smartphone with a keyboard, offering a 3.1-inch (720 x 720 pixel) 330ppi display,  dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (microSD slot included). Not much is known about this device as only controlled demos of the device has been made available.

Overall, Blackberry has a made an impressive debut and the hard work the company has put in developing a completely new modern smartphone OS definitely shows. As of today BB10 officially joins the race for the best smartphone OS and all the best to it!

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Air Droid - the one app to get rid of all those cables

Platforms: Android
Rating: 5/5
Bottom line: A must have file manager for every droid device.

It is 2050 and you are living in a world free of ugly, knotted cables. No more cables to charge all the electronic gizmos or a special 29 pin connector for the flashy you-know-what gadgets. Well, I am not sure if all of those will come true but there sure is an easy way to manage your Android phone sans cables. Airdroid  makes it possible to manage the droids via the humble browser.

The setup
Once the app is downloaded and installed in your phone, you need to pair it with your PC. This process requires both the PC and the mobile to be connected to the same WiFi network. Point your browser to the URL and then either enter the pass code shown on the mobile or just scan the QR code in the browser and you are in. The homepage displays the device details, WiFi strength, battery indicator and a couple of other icons to manage your phone.

The usual
Now you can check all your latest SMS messages and reply to them from your PC. Apart from checking your messages, you can also manage your contacts, files, music and even apps via Airdroid. This app is very convenient for quick file transfer to and from the device. The upload speed was just average and is no problem for transferring some songs or files occasionally but it does take quite a while to transfer large videos. However, despite the time there was no other problem in transferring large files and the process is as smooth as it can get.

The interesting
Airdroid has quite a few tricks. For instance, you can mange your apps from your PC. Apart from the option to uninstall an app, you can also download the apk file to your PC or even upload a apk file to the mobile device and install it! You can also choose and set your favorite tone for call, alarm and notifications. One quirky feature is entering a URL in the browser and launching it on the phone (I agree it is not something revolutionary but it still is cool).

The bizarre
The app requires the phone to be rooted to capture and manage screenshots. However if you just want to see the captured screenshots, just go the appropriate folder where it is stored using the file manager! The only weird thing I notices about this app is the way it handles memory cards. When you click on the Files icon, you can notice the window shows SD Card and System. Conventional knowledge would say that the former is where you can access the SD card, but it is not the case here. To access the SD card contents, you need to navigate to System -> Storage -> extCard. Quite bizarre and I have no know idea why this happens. (It took me quite sometime to figure out how to do this anyway)

On the mobile front, pretty much the same options are available. The one thing that puzzles me still is there are no ads in this app, despite being a well polished one! The closest thing that comes to ads is the Recommendations section which provides links to some other apps. There were no lags or crashes while using this app.

Overall this is the best looking and efficient Android app I have ever seen and it definitely requires a place in the must-have-app list.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Captio Expenses - an app to declutter you pockets

Do you travel a lot but hate having to stuff all the bills in your wallet and pockets to keep track of how much you are spending. Fret not, there is an app to that dirty work for you - Captio. This app acts a virtual book keeper by consolidating all your bills and making them accessible from anywhere. This app is available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. All your scanned receipts can be accessed via the browser too. (This review pertains to only the Android version)

A bumpy start
Once you have downloaded the app to your phone, the sign up is actually quite simple. Enter your email id and the password and you can start accessing your account. The problem begins a bit later. The app kept crashing twice. I had to Force Stop the process and clear all the data before I could use it again. However after that app didn't crash.

The good
The free version of the app allows you to scan up to 10 receipts. I started off with a crumpled credit card statement. To my surprise the app did make out the merchant name(in this case, it showed my bank's name), the date of the bill and the amount correctly. There are options to add the bill to a specific category and also mention some comments. I tried scanning various other bills and the app did make sense of most of them. There is also an option to change the currency settings based on the country.

The bad
The categories are all in Spanish and I had to translate them to know which is what. Also, there are only very few categories. Hope the makers extend support for English soon. The app is simple to navigate but it gets quite ugly when you are viewing a receipt and want to go back to the previous screen. The back button keeps redirecting a couple of times before you hit the home screen. Even if the same receipt is scanned multiple times, the app is unable to identify it is all the same. Though this is not a deal breaker, but such a functionality will be useful to avoid duplicates.

The ugly
The biggest complaint with the app is it is - extremely slow! The scanned images are uploaded to the server, where they are processed and the information is sent back. This process takes quite a while; about 1-2 minutes for a single scan even when connected to a WiFi network. Also while uploading the image, the app sometimes throws up an error or is struck forever in the same screen!

The concept of having a virtual ledger of all expenses that can be easily tracked is a great idea but it is the implementation where all hell breaks loose. Wonder if the iPhone app is any better than this. Overall this is one app to watch out for.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Done Not Done - a bucket list app for the things you want to do

Every passing week a new to-do app makes its way to the mobile app stores and begs for your attention by promising to remind you to pick up the milkBetaworks, the makers of Done Not Done, have decided to build something different - an app that keeps track of the stuff that we want to do rather than have to do. Currently Done Not Done is available as a web app and on iOS platform. (Hope the Android version sees the light of the day soon)

Signing up and exploring
The sign up process is fairly simple and you can create an account with a Facebook or Twitter login. The one good thing about the app is, it explicitly mentions that it requires only Read Access for the About Me section in Facebook and nothing else. I am liking these guys already! Once you are done selecting a username and password, you are guided through a series of questionnaire like forms that asks you whether you have watched the Casablanca, The Dark Knight Rises, etc. The app smoothly guides the first time users to explore around and get comfortable using it. For each activity you want to do - be it watching a movie or reading a book, you can select the corresponding option: mark it as Done or Not Done, add a little comment why you did/want to do it and a rating.

Finding friends
You can currently link your Facebook and Twitter accounts to find friends. Since this is a new app, there is not much chance that your friends are already on it but that is no excuse to not try this app. You can spread the word through Facebook and Twitter. The only complaint I have is the status update on Facebook looks a bit dull and boring - hope they have come out with some Pinterest-like board that will get some eyeballs.

Exploring around

Exploring in Done Not Done
The Ideas section shows all the things your friends have done and that you haven’t. In Find & Add section you can search for anything that you want to do - say watch Harry Potter. Then you can filter the results whether it is the movie you want to watch or the book you want to read or the audio book that you want to listen to. Click on each option - add a comment, rate it and share it via Facebook or Twitter.

On iPhone
I got to play around the app only on the browser. But some of the reviews about the iPhone app mention the UI is beautiful but slow and lags at time, something usually unheard of for an iPhone app. But we can give the makers the benefit of doubt and hope they fix it soon.

Overall, the idea seems to be good and there definitely is lot of scope for improvement and the team admits it too on their blog. The team also intends to give us more 'verbs' to do as stated in their purpose page.

"Verbs! — We want you to think in verbs, not nouns. Don’t search for a movie; search for something you want to watch. Don’t just add books to your Done list; read more books you love. Nouns pile up. Verbs get things done."

 Go ahead and give this app a spin and drop in your comments about it.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Facebook launches Graph Search - a social search tool

Facebook CEO, +Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new social search tool called Graph Search that should hopefully lock us in FB Wonderland for all eternity. Gone are the days when we called our friends to ask their suggestions on what movie to watch or where to go out for dinner; now we just google it. Yup, 'google' is considered a verb and it sounds better than the task it does - online search.

Image credit: Facebook

So what exactly is the new Graph Search
 Is it another search engine? The answer is No. It is not meant to compete/replace Google, at least not for now. While Google is meant for looking up anything under the sun on the world wide web, Graph Search is exclusive to just Facebook. So does this make the Graph Search lame? Again, the answer is No. With over 1 billion users and 240 billion user uploaded photos and millions of status updates, likes, pokes and what-nots, Facebook is data miner's paradise.

What is wrong with Google Search
It depends on what you are searching. If you doing some research for your project or checking the weather or trying to dig up a news article you read long long ago, chances are Google will get it right most of the time. The trouble begins with personalized searches. Right now, there are many apps for recommending books(Amazon), restaurants(Zomato), movies(IMDB), local businesses(Yelp) and so on and so forth. Though all these apps provide us a heads up, there is always a nagging question in the back of our head - are these reviews credible? Will we travel all the way to a restaurant which we have not even heard of until now just because food_lover1234 recommends it? The answer is, probably not. I am more inclined to consider a review from my circle of friends than some random usernames. This is the problem Facebook is attempting to solve with the Graph Search.

What you can actually do with Graph Search
Find out what restaurants your friends visited or if any of your friends have already seen the latest movie you are planning to watch. You can also step a bit outside your network and cast a wider net - what songs do doctors like, where do software engineers in your area hang out or find out friends (or friends of friends) who can refer you for a job opening at a particular company. Sweet! The possibilities are endless. As this feature is not yet rolled out to all users, it is too early to comment if Graph Search will be used to search for anything useful or just to improve one's stalking skills.

What about my data
Before the privacy pundits cry foul that this new feature is yet another attempt by Facebook to steal user data, Zuckerberg has clearly emphasized that a person will be able to view only the data that you have shared with him/her. Facebook seems to have learnt a bit or two about ticking off users with privacy gaffes so it has made an explanatory video to demonstrate how Graph Search works with privacy settings. That ought to put the conspiracy theories to rest for a while.

The future of search is personalized search results. Google has been on this track for some time now. Search, plus Your World tailors search results based on +1s or comments from connections on Google+. But the biggest problem is, there aren't that many people on Google+ and so there isn't enough data to make suggestions. On the other hand, Facebook knows everything about our lives and now it has the means to make sense of it. If you are unable to find an answer for something on Facebook (God forbid), you can use Bing to search online for the same query. Microsoft, which has been cosying up to Facebook for quite some time, is probably sneering now for it has got to the one place that Google couldn't, right into Facebook's pants :)

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Will 2013 be the year for Sony

Image credit: Sony
This year's Consumer Electronics Show, CES 2013 seemed a bit dull without the usual biggies like Apple and Microsoft. But the rising (Huawei) and the fallen tech giants (read Sony) seemed to have made the best of the situation by hogging the limelight with some really awesome devices. While Huawei is trying to change its image from a manufacturer of budget android phones to a true technology leader by launching products like the Ascend Mate and Ascend D2, it was Sony who really took us all by surprise.

The past
Sony once had a strong pre-smartphone market-share with its Walkman series. But the last two years, Sony had failed to adapt to the touch era and truly leverage Android's potential. While all the manufacturers went quad core last year, Sony was content rolling out mediocre phone with single and dual core. Though Sony has the Xperia line of Android devices it has no flagship product that could stand against the Samsung SIII or the HTC One X. And finally the spell is broken and Sony is back in the game.

The present
Sony unveiled the Xperia Z smartphone at the CES 2013 and it sure is a beauty. The bright, big and beautiful 5 inch display and the sturdy solid build make it look and feel like a premium device. The device has a breath taking 1080p Full HD and it incorporates the Mobile Bravia Engine, Sony's proprietary video rendering technology found in its Bravia line of TVs. The phone is powered by a quad-core processor and is powered by a 2400 mAH battery. The other cool fact about this phone is, it is water resistant! No need to wipe your phone on your shirt to get rid of the smudges, just hold it under a tap! The Xperia Z heralds the arrival of the world's first image sensor with HDR (High Dynamic Range) video for smartphones. The devices should be available for sale by March and is expected to set a new benchmark for smartphones.

Sony also launched the Walkman W273, an ultra-portable music player that is completely wire free and has all of the MP3's internals built right into the headset. It comes with 4GB of storage and is available in black, white, blue or pink! It is completely water-proof, so you don't have to worry about wiping that sweat off again. What is even more impressive is the battery life - 1.5 hours of charging gives a full 8 hours of playback time. Apart from these products, Sony also launched its 4K TV - the Sony 4K Bravia X900A, which will be launching in spring and will be Sony's flagship 4K TV set.

The future
Sony seems to have started off this year with a good start and I surely do hope it has a hit in the smartphone race, where it badly needs one. The main problem with Sony phones have been the branding. Sony's custom UI skin on Android phones are neither great nor worse but a bit more attention to it wouldn't hurt. How about starting by naming it first, really isn't it about time. Beneath these minor scuffs, lay a diamond in the making. Will Sony be the chosen one and make a comeback in 2013, we'll just have to cross our fingers and wait.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Google dumps Microsoft: You are just not good enough for me

Image Credit: Gizbot
Google ruffled quite a few feathers in the Windows Phone camp lat week by redirecting users who tried to access Google Maps in Internet Explorer to the Google homepage. The initial statement by Google goes something like this: 

“The mobile web version of Google Maps is optimized for WebKit browsers such as Chrome and Safari. However, since Internet Explorer is not a WebKit browser, Windows Phone devices are not able to access Google Maps for the mobile web”

What Google really meant: you are a nice guy, it’s just that we are two different people and so maybe we shouldn't see each other anymore aka you just got dumped, douche!

Sure, that sounds that like a fair reason and it also doesn't make any point for Google to invest its resources to deliver an application on a platform that is still not yet significant enough from a business point of view. However, the next day Google updated its statement saying that it is 'currently working' on removing the re-direct and providing a good maps experience for the Windows Phone users.

What follows is Google’s statement:
"We periodically test Google Maps compatibility with mobile browsers to make sure we deliver the best experience for those users. In our last test, IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality. As a result, we chose to continue to redirect IE mobile users to where they could at least make local searches. The Firefox mobile browser did offer a somewhat better user experience and that’s why there is no redirect for those users.
Recent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect. We will continue to test Google Maps compatibility with other mobile browsers to ensure the best possible experience for users."

As a previous windows phone user, I agree with what Google said. The default Bing Maps on WP is far from satisfactory, at least in India. So the only other option was to access Google Maps via the browser or an app using Google Maps. I tried the latter and it was actually pretty good. It had options to search for a location, get the route and itinerary. I believe this option might still work for the Windows Phone users who are stranded on the streets.

While Google claims product design is the reason for this fiasco it could as well be any of the following:

  • Building, testing and maintaining an app as complex as Maps just for a few million users probably doesn't make any sense. Also, the one place where Google has not yet been able to reach out is the enterprise while Microsoft has a monopoly over it(at least for now). So providing a good Maps experience will only help Microsoft to sell more Windows Phones. 
  • Google just doesn't want to take any risk and let Windows Phone platform to grow - hiding the Golden Egg ought to do that.
  • Finally, Microsoft just brought this upon itself, thanks to all the negative smear campaigns it led against Google - ScroogledBing It On
  • Recently FTC ruled in favour of Google crushing Microsoft's allegations that Google was involved in unfair trade practices. So maybe +Larry Page decided to rub more salt in the wound - Its payback time!

This year the battle between the tech titans will be fought over who controls the maps and pictures - one down, one more to go for Google.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).